MARIA LAINA'S THEATRE,
- Irene Mountraki, Dramaturg - Theatre critic
If there is a prevalent feeling in Maria Laina’s work, this is the sense of loneliness: a loneliness that is absolute and cannot be transcended through the presence of and contact with the Other, or through any attempts of communication with the outside world. The whole body of the playwright’s work is developed within an atmosphere of introversion and a demand for liberation from every kind of constrains.
Laina’s heroes walk the barren landscapes of their lives completely alone, stumbling upon only a few oases that enable them to recuperate and strengthen their faith. The only recipient of their thoughts and feelings is their own self. However, in their lonely path, these people do not grovel; restoring their world’s disturbed – according to the average person’s perspective – order is of little concern to them. They maintain their composure and dignity, marching steadily and aware of their limitations, without wailing or bestowing responsibility for their lives to others. The bridges of communication may have been cut, but Laina’s characters find refuge in their own selves and are wisely prepared; they wouldn’t bear their lives as victims. These people are products of a philosophical life attitude and despite their occasional reservations, fears or anxieties, have come to terms and calmly prepared for the rest of their journey away from conventionality. They are able to foretaste whatever follows without fear.
The starting point of this specific trail of thought and way of viewing things are the two main themes that – almost obsessively – run throughout Maria Laina’s dramaturgy: death and eros. These are issues related to and generated from the same feeling: loneliness, the fabric that combines the two, leading people to daily small – or definitive – deaths.
Death, ever present in her dramaturgy, emphasizes the futility of life and urges, encourages Laina’s heroes to ponder over and draw their own conclusions about what life is. The key question is: what meaning is there in life, under the threat of death? And how is the fulfillment of desires defined? However, the playwright does not intend to answer the questions she raises, leaving them open to hang menacingly over anyone who attempts to turn a blind eye to existence and continue his life in ignorance.
This lyrical view of things, Maria Laina’s personal poetic sensibility reflected in her dramaturgy, is all the more evident in her mode of writing and use of words. Hers is a speech that moves beyond the natural, realistic one that serves the daily interaction and communication with the Other; however, it is also impetuous, hermetic and dense, ideally measured so as not to spread but create a blistering rhythm and transform her drama into a drama with direct linguistic experience. Thereby, she produces and provides a detached emotion that succeeds in stimulating the cognitive process, leading to a much more catalytic effect than a temporary, effortless stimulation of certain emotions could achieve.
In this context, the space where Laina’s plays are set is of minimal importance. Her theatre does not correspond to realistic facts, conform to the norm, follow a narrative sequence or draw conclusions; it is one about life fragments.
The Clown is a dialogue between the protagonist and either his own self, or the role he is supposedly playing. It is a dialectic between what a human being “is” and what he “appears to be”, with the playwright incessantly preoccupied with what is authentic and genuine, what lies behind the masks everyone wears in order to go through everyday life. Respectively, in the poetic monologue A Stolen Kiss every issue remains open and unanswered: Which of the stories that the hero narrates with constant temporal incisions are true? Did this life, this love and this accident that are described really exist? Or do they only serve as stimulants of the brain, to restore flavors, scents and senses that can still function? Food is also a monologue: the hero, absorbed in his autistic, solitary universe meditates on the art of eating and its social ramifications. He comes dangerously close to morbidity and derailment into madness, while the brutality that lies within everyone is creeping in.
In Reality is Always Present, Laina employs a more "theatrical" form. This three-act play follows a person’s route from a neurological clinic to the house and back. It regards a triangle that has nothing to do with love, but is concerned with the quest for liberty; the heroine does not choose an erotic partner but a companion in the path to liberation from conventions. For this play’s heroes, words have lost their meaning, and attempts to communication are largely made through the image, through the creation of a common worldview of things. Reflections of this play are detected in When the Wolf is not Here, and one could even speculate that the couple in this play is the same as that in Reality – a suspicion reinforced by the fact that the woman's name is the same. Here, however we meet the couple in a previous phase of their relationship; the moment they became aware of the definite rupture and the subsequent isolation.
Common themes between Reality is Always Present and the other plays are found with regard to other heroes’ images, actions or obsessions. Man “A” in Reality is describing a forest, while man “B” in One… Two… Three also talks about a forest. The woman in Reality remembers her mother playing Solitaire, while man “A” in One... Two... Three constantly plays this game as well. The choice of this particular game is far from random, since Solitaire is a lonely game where the player challenges his own luck against himself.
Another element that runs throughout Maria Laina’s dramaturgy is the death of her mother; from The Clown to Reality is Always Present, to When the Wolf is not Here, to Stolen Kiss and also Family Affair, a work with tough and unapproachable heroes. In all these plays, the mother's death displaces the hero, uproots him; it is the verification of utter solitude and the – sooner or later – impending end. This realization of the end appears to put a limit to the will to fight, the zest for life. The poet’s words from an interview she gave some years ago come to mind: “death prevents life” (Lifo, Within Laurels, 24/4/2008 interview to Yiorgos Chronas).
Laina’s poetic dramaturgy manages to deafeningly cry out, without a sound, the ineffable loneliness and death. Maria Laina brings us face to face with the deepest expression of human anguish but, while she offers no answers, she doesn’t lead us to despair.
[Translation: Elena Delliou]